Should members of the LSU Board of Supervisors disclose who receives their scholarships?|
Story Archives: An independent Legislature?
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|An independent Legislature?|
Much to do has been made of the backbiting that occurred between Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Legislature during the regular session that adjourned sine die last week.
While the media did a good job of convincing the public that lawmakers finally realized the executive and legislative branches of government in Louisiana actually are equal, the fact of the matter is the Legislature didn't exhibit much independence from Jindal.
Though the Legislature bucked Jindal on literally every major piece of legislation the governor supported, it was a perfect storm that led to lawmakers at least publicly showing us they could think for themselves. At the center of the storm was money, or the lack thereof, and term limits.
Months ago prior to the start of the regular session, we were told the state faced a $1.6-billion revenue shortfall heading into the 2011-2012 fiscal year, which begins July 1. We were warned deep cuts in spending would be needed to balance the budget for the new fiscal year, cuts that might strike at the heart of health care and higher education. The special interests revved up and prepared for war. Budget-wise that is.
By the time it was all said and done when lawmakers adjourned for good June 23, the Legislature approved a roughly $25 billion budget for the new fiscal year. Lawmakers supposedly reduced spending by about $1 billion compared to the state operating budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30. The new budget supposedly uses about $300 million in one-time revenues for recurring expenses while other one-time revenues were tapped to pay for one-time expenses such as debt payments.
Health care and higher education escaped the budget process relatively unscathed.
Yet, for all of the talk about legislative independence, the budget lawmakers approved literally mirrored the one Jindal proposed months ago. The Legislature simply went about piecing it together in a rather boisterous fashion, posturing along the way for the media to suggest a new era in government had arrived in Baton Rouge. That's hogwash.
Still, the Legislature said no to Jindal on consolidating Southern University in New Orleans with the University of New Orleans. Lawmakers also turned a deaf ear to consolidating the various boards for governing higher education into one super board to oversee all of higher ed.
Both measures were cornerstones of the Jindal legislative agenda for the regular session.
Lawmakers blocked Jindal as well on forcing state employees to contribute more money toward their retirement, and they said no, too, to Jindal's push to sell some state prisons to free up revenues to balance the budget.
Let's not forget the higher education community lost a battle to raise tuition willy-nilly, a move Jindal signed off on months ago when the higher ed crowd was screaming to the heavens that they needed more money to offset cuts in funding in years past.
On the surface, one could suggest Jindal lost his influence with the Legislature. That's why lawmakers refused to embrace his legislative agenda wholeheartedly. One could suggest it, and one would be wrong.
No, the Legislature didn't go along with the governor carte blanche in the 2011 regular session because he didn't have the money to pay them off. Also, a number of lawmakers were term-limited, and they had nothing to lose by saying no to the governor for a change.
Allow me to explain about the money angle.
Lawmakers are human just like you and me. If they're asked to stick their necks on the line on matters such as raising tuition at colleges and universities or consolidating a couple of universities or selling off state assets to fund government in general, they want something for their troubles. That something would be appropriations to pay for some pet project in their respective legislative districts.
Jindal didn't have much discretionary funding to work with heading into the new fiscal year. In other words, the governor didn't have the money to throw at reluctant lawmakers to convince them to vote his way.
That, my friends, is how you arrive at legislative independence.
Last week, I wrote that John Alario was Speaker of the House of Representatives under Gov. Buddy Roemer in 1988. That was incorrect.
When Roemer took office in January 1988, the House elected Rep. Jimmy Dimos of Monroe as its Speaker.
Alario had served as Speaker from 1984-1988 under Gov. Edwin Edwards. Alario became Speaker of the House again in 1992 when Edwards took office for his fourth and final term.